Chicago Bear Martellus Bennett believes reading helps kids grow academically and encourages them to expand their imaginations.
The 6'6" tight end shared his own imagination, and skills as a professional athlete, with sixth-graders Thursday at Stuart Paddock Elementary School in Palatine.
Bennett, along with best-selling author and former Atlanta Falcons defensive lineman Tim Green, led students in 60 minutes of fitness and football drills before heading in to the school's library to read the first few chapters of Green's latest book, "Kid Owner."
"Kids look up to football players," Green said. "This is a great opportunity to share with them the message of education."
Thursday's event was part of the NFL's Play 60/Read 20 initiative, a program that encourages kids to get 60 minutes of physical activity and 20 minutes of reading in every day.
More than 100 Paddock students, most wearing Bears gear, were broken up into groups that rotated through different agility and skill stations in a field behind the school. Bennett and Green, along with staff members and a parent volunteers, led students through the drills.
Bennett's station required students to run through a series of tires and hula hoops, then jump over a small barrier and catch a pass from the Bears tight end. Bennett told students to use their imagination and picture the tires as alligators.
Students listened excitedly to any tips Bennett and Green had to offer.
"You actually catch the ball with your eyes, not your hands," Bennett told a student before giving him a second chance to catch a pass. "You have to look the ball all the way to your hands. If you can see it, you can catch it."
Next to Bennett's station, Green led kids in a tackle drill. The foam dummies students tackled had Green Bay Packers logos stuck on to them.
"I haven't seen anyone really lay this quarterback out yet," Green challenged right before a student "sacked the quarterback", causing a fumble.
After the kids tried their hand at the different drills, everyone headed inside to hear Green and Bennett read the first four chapters of Green's book.
But first, a surprise from the students: The sixth-graders had been practicing their own version of "The Super Bowl Shuffle," aptly renamed "The Reading Shuffle."
"We're not here to cause no trouble, we're just here to do the reading shuffle," students sang while executing a choreographed dance with sunglasses on.
After their energetic performance and demonstration of their athletic skills outside, Green had the students' full attention as he read the first chapter of "Kid Owner," a story about a Texas kid who inherits the Dallas Cowboys.
Bennett took over reading the second and third chapters, and did so with a zeal that got kids laughing and interacting with him. He used a high-pitched voice to read the part of the main character's mother and got out of his chair to act out the mother telling her son to go to his room. Students could clearly relate to the situation.
After two students volunteered to read a few paragraphs out loud, Green took over with chapter four, which ended in a cliffhanger.
Students begged for another chapter, but as Bennett and Green announced they had to leave, they unveiled a stack of books. Each students would get a new, signed copy of "Kid Owner," Green announced.
"In reading Tim Green books, every chapter ends in a cliffhanger," sixth-grade teacher Holly Lannert said. "He incorporates sports into books and connects with kids who, outside of school, are very active. The kids can't put the books down."
Lannert said sixth-grade teachers have been reading Green's books to their classes since the beginning of the school year.
"We're always trying to find ways to motivate students to read, and this has really worked as a catalyst to jump-start reluctant readers," she said.